Hello, friends!!! It’s been a hot minute since I’ve posted here. Most of my bookish babbling these days is happening over on Instagram. But I was lucky enough to be invited to participate in the blog tour for We Are the Wildcats by Siobhan Vivian, who happens to be one of my favorite authors, and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. Plus this book, you guys, it was an incredibly personal read for me and an easy five stars.
So why was this one personal? This book is about a coach who’s abusive to his team of female high school soccer players. It’s about the way the coach uses his position of power and influence over the girls on his team in a way that makes them not only normalize his behavior, but celebrate it. Sadly, this is something I experienced myself in high school, and I’m sure there are many, many other teens going through the same thing.
I was on our high school’s dance team. And we were good. Really good. We won nationals when I was a sophomore. But the fact that we were good only made us believe that what our coach was doing was in our best interest. She screamed at us because she cared. She verbally humiliated and debased us in front of our peers for the slightest of mistakes because she wanted us to be the best we could be. She made us practice in ways that were physically abusive and harmful because it made us stronger, better. At least that’s what we thought.
A couple of examples. I pulled my hamstring doing the splits one day at practice during my sophomore year. The next morning when my splits weren’t perfectly flat due to my injury, she made me sit in the splits for an hour. An hour. I couldn’t sit or walk for months after that without either wrapping my leg in a heating pad or smothering it in IcyHot. I vividly remember running in and out of the gym during dance routines on another morning to throw up, because I had the flu and a one hundred and three degree fever, but we weren’t allowed to “call in sick.” These are just a couple examples of what we experienced.
And the physical abuse was nowhere near as traumatic as the way she would scream at us. The names she’d call us. How the girls in the senior class not only thought the way our coach treated us was okay, but took it upon themselves to perpetuate the behavior, yelling at under class men in the exact same way.
What should have been a fun and exciting experience was quite frankly, a nightmare. We were afraid to speak out for fear of losing our friends, which sounds silly in hindsight, but friends are you’re entire world at that age. We danced an average of four hours a day. That team was my social life, and the idea of losing them was terrifying.
A group of us finally got the courage to go to the school administrators about it during my junior year. Our parents backed us up after witnessing the abuse we experienced. But we were told that we were exaggerating, being too sensitive. That what we experienced had nothing on the what the boys on the football team had to go through–as though boys experiencing abuse was in any way okay either. This idea was only reinforced by the older girls on the team, who were so accustomed to the abuse and bolstered by the fact that we were winning, they told the administrators that it wasn’t happening. That everything was okay.
A few people quit, and I’m ashamed to say we stopped hanging out with them. The rest of us buried what we were feeling and pretended like everything was fine, because we wanted to continue to be part of the group.
I finally quit myself right before my senior year, but I didn’t dare tell anyone the true reason why. I couldn’t take anymore of the emotional, physical, and mental trauma. I didn’t want to cause drama and lose my friends. I blamed it on my hamstring injury, which was, in fact, still bothering me almost two years after it initially happened.
This is more personal information than I’ve ever shared on this blog before, and this is all to say that this book is important. That these things are happening in our school systems, and the most important step in putting a stop to it is to ensure the kids who are victims of the abuse know and understand what’s happening to them, and that, as adults, we support and believe them when they tell us what’s going on.
This post is just a peek into the years of abuse my friends and I experienced. And I sincerely hope that one day no teen will have to go through this kind of thing in the name of becoming better at a sport or activity.
Despite it’s focus on an incredibly important topic, this book certainly has it’s moments of fun and levity. There are wonderful, complicated friendships. There’s a hint of romance. And as we’ve come to expect of Siobhan Vivian, truly heartfelt writing.
About the Book
Tomorrow, the Wildcat varsity field hockey squad will play the first game of their new season. But at tonight’s team sleepover, the girls are all about forging the bonds of trust, loyalty, and friendship necessary to win.
Everything hinges on the midnight initiation ceremony—a beloved tradition and the only facet of being a Wildcat that the girls control. Until now.
Coach—a handsome former college player revered and feared in equal measure—changes the plan and spins his team on a new adventure. One where they take a rival team’s mascot for a joyride, crash a party in their pajamas, break into the high school for the perfect picture.
But as the girls slip out of their comfort zone, so do some long-held secrets. And just how far they’re willing to go for their team takes them all—especially Coach—by surprise.
About the Author
Siobhan Vivian is the author of the young adult novel We Are the Wildcats, as well as Stay Sweet, The Last Boy and Girl in the World, The List, Not That Kind of Girl, Same Difference, A Little Friendly Advice, and the Burn for Burn trilogy, cowritten with Jenny Han. A former editor for Alloy Entertainment, she received her MFA in creative writing at the New School. She teaches creative writing at the University of Pittsburgh. Visit her at SiobhanVivian.com.